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Actor Demo Reel

It has been a tradition for us at Advanced Media since the early days to offer actor and industry professional demo reel editing. We have assisted hundreds of actors and industry professionals with crafting one of their most important marketing, auditioning and exposure tools – their video demo and promo reel and portfolio.

In the rapidly moving and ever-evolving digital age, the need for an effective and well edited reel is critical more than ever before. Building a quality reel requires patience, experience and skill. Our editors have it all and they add their own personal touch.

We also offer a media storage service for free upon request for continuation of reel updates, upgrade, changes and name/credit replacement.

What is a demo reel and who needs it?

A demo reel is a collection on film or video of the work that best represents you and your job credentials within the film and television industry. A demo reel is useful for directors, writers, actors, cinematographers, production designers, producers and editors. It’s a visual resume of your past work and an essential part of any actor’s portfolio.

Demo reels constantly need to be updated. It is important that they are concise, while having impact and focus on the actor. A demo reel will change over the years, as the actor’s career unfolds. A demo reel is useful for any aspiring actor.

Some common mistakes made with actor demo reels include: making the demo reel too long, trying to make a reel with non-professional material, using theater work for film, putting your demo reel on DVD’s that aren’t universal, inadequate labeling, and which highlight other actors. To avoid these problems, it is commonly advised to use the services of a professional to attain the highest level of production quality.

I just started. Do I need a reel?

Demo reels are for actors who have been acting for a while, and want to take their career to the next level by sharing their work with new casting agents, producers and directors. They are not necessarily for “Straight out of school actors,” who have little to no work to edit.

It is certainly possible for a young actor, with the ability to gather, rehearse and shoot quality material, to try their hand at a self made demo reel. However, if that young actor goes out with a video camera to shoot just anything, than it may give the person hiring you a bad impression.

There are many people today who would take your money to shoot a scene for you, advertising themselves as acting teachers, directors and coaches. Be very careful before agreeing to do so, and if possible, request to see previous work done for other actors.

Tell me more about the process.

The actor who has enough material to make a demo reel usually hires an editor to help shape it into a professional package. Actors may want to include on the DVD a still gallery of their head shots, photos, press material and anything else that may be of interest to the employer.

Then, the actual reel should be cut together at the same or a better level than it existed in its original form. The actor should make his own creative decisions, then communicate that to his editor, who can in turn have creative license to order the material to look and feel it’s best.

Important questions to ask in the editing process: Does this shot compliment or contrast with the next? Is there a through-line to my work? What “Type” am I portraying most? Is this the “Type” of role that I want to continue to work in? Does my demo reel show off my strengths? Do I need to shoot extra material to balance what I already have?

In the end, a demo reel is a foot in the door and an extension to your resume. It may not land you the important job, as much as it might land you the important audition, or interview.

So it’s important with the demo reel to “leave them wanting more.” By creating a demo reel that is shaped into a bit of a story line, or leaves a question or mystery about who you are as an actor and piques the viewer’s interest in your acting talent, you will have another “tool” with which to garner newer and potentially higher paid, more fulfilling work.

Any tips you can share? How do I prepare for editing my reel?

Acting Reel Tip #1 – Know thy enemy

Your target audience, a small niche group of film industry professionals who are in a position to hire you or further your career, are generally very busy people. They have their own set of concerns and worries, and they too have people they need to answer to.

As an actor you want to take a brief moment and understand who you are trying to appeal to and for what reason. You essentially want to be their friend. You want to make their lives easy. So easy, that after viewing your reel, they place you on the “To call” list.

You want to make sure they experience the full You, in an effective and concise manner. You really don’t want them to feel as if they are wasting their time. Don’t try sending them to complicated web sites with multiple pages and logins, or let them watch 2 minutes of work that you did 20 years ago.

Acting Reel Tip #2 – Get the best source possible

It’s great to have DVD copies of films that you acted in, but it makes editing your reel very difficult, because the video on DVDs needs to be extracted before it can be edited. Depending on how the DVD was made (retail or not), the results could be very disappointing.

If you can, try to get copies of your film acting footage as video files or on a broadcast tape. At Advanced Media, we can read and digitize from any tape, DVD or file. If you have a Mac computer, ask for Quicktime files. If you have a PC, ask for AVI files.

The best way to get the files you need is as a broadcast tape such as HDCAM or DigiBeta or even MiniDV, compiled from a high-quality master of the film. That may not be readily available, even though it will yield an amazing finished quality, and will truly feature you in the best possible way. It is worth trying to obtain it.

If that is not an option, try to contact the editor of the movie you were in. If they are not on set when you shoot, get their name and number from the director or producer. Most of the time, they’ll be able to burn data DVDs with the scenes you want in the format you ask for. Always be sure to have the permission of the producer when doing so.

You do not want to get yourself in a legal bind. Also, keep in mind that this will probably not be a finished product. The more professional your source seems, the better off your reel will feel.

Acting Reel Tip #3 – A little extra time now will save you a lot of time later

One way that is sure to save you time and money in the editing room is by “pre-editing” your reel at home. Simply browse and mark the segments you would most like to use.

It doesn’t have to be accurate and you should allow some padding and alternatives, but you do want to get to know what will make it in. That way, when you show up to work with the editor, you can nail it in no time, versus wasting unnecessary hours in the edit room.

Acting Reel Tip #4 – Keep it simple

Your acting reel doesn’t need flashy titles and transitions. A simple fade in and fade out with your name and contact information on a black background works great. Simply stating your name and contact information will keep the agent and casting director focused on what matters – watching your acting and writing down your contact information.

The important thing is to make sure your slate stays on screen long enough for people to write it down (4-5 seconds if it only includes your name and number, longer if you have more information, like your acting agency’s name or your web page’s address).

And also make sure you put in the same information at the end of your acting reel. That’s the time people are going to write it down… after seeing your best on screen acting!

Which leads to the next point…

Acting Reel Tip #5 – Keep the best for last

If you’re wondering in what order to include your film scenes on your reel, consider this…choose a really good scene to start off your demo reel (so busy casting directors keep watching) and pick your best scene to end the reel (so that casting directors pick up the phone to call you).

Once you have your first and final scenes, filling the middle of your reel is easy. Line up your middle scenes with one goal in mind – keep the viewer watching. This means cutting out anything that feels too long or redundant. If you can, keep surprising the casting director by switching genres or character types.

Acting Reel Tip #6 – Make a short intro

Do you have good moments from the films you’ve been in that just aren’t long enough to include in your acting reel? If you have good on screen moments you don’t know what to do with (for example, a good close-up reaction shot or a silent bit in an action scene), you can edit them all together in a quick montage set to music right after you slate your name at the beginning of your reel. A quick montage (30 seconds max) can really set the tone for your reel.

Acting Reel Tip #7 – Don’t fall in love with yourself (at least not here…)

A typical acting demo reel is 3-5 minutes long, but having a great 2-minute reel is a much better idea than having a 5 minute average one. Don’t feel like you have to include all the film acting you ever did on your reel. Go back to tip #1 – anyone who is watching your reel for professional reasons is most likely a very busy person and they have probably already seen dozens of others just now.

Only pick your best acting moments (and make sure you include close-ups so the viewer knows which actor he’s looking at). Your acting reel is all about you. Ideally, it shouldn’t feature a close-up of any other actor for more than a few seconds).

If you have two good acting moments in a scene separated by lengthy dialogue by other characters, cut out the middle dialogue and drop a quick fade in/fade out between your two acting moments.

Remember… the acting agent or casting director watching your reel doesn’t care about understanding the scene you’re in or whether it makes sense, they just want to see you act. Don’t let other characters steal your show.

Acting Reel Tip #8 – Make the most of your scenes

If you’re starting your film acting career, the problem may not be cutting from your reel but adding to it. If you have very few film scenes to include on your reel, get busy! Consider adding footage from a student film or a commercial.

If you had a very small role in a film with a recognizable actor or director, you can use a “lower third” title under the footage to mention the name of the actor or director.

If you have no footage at all and really feel that you need a film reel, you may want to hire a young director to shoot a few scenes starring you. Film students will probably be willing to do it for free if you pay for the camera and sound package.

However, we always recommend being careful of people who promote themselves as there to shoot scenes for you for profit. You want to make sure your money is well spent, because a really poorly made scene with no direction would not help you get any job.

Acting Reel Tip #9 – Use all media and all platform to promote yourself

The reality is that you never know where or when you will be seen and who will be watching. Today, there are as many options to promote your reel as there are competitors for the job.

The traditional DVD still holds, especially when you are seeking agents and applying for some productions. The reality is that today, while we all have gotten used to the fast flow of information on the Internet – at times it can prove daunting.

A casting director who reviewed 20 reels online may simply get tired, not to mention connection speed issues and computer issues that could hurt the viewing experience.

Traditional DVD is still a great way to reach people. It is safe and sound and anyone who watches it is most likely committed for at least a minute before turning it off, while online the commitment level is just about 5 seconds.

Don’t get fancy and use Blu-ray, unless you know for sure that the reviewing party has access to one. It has a less than 20% market penetration and costs much more to produce.

Another benefit of DVD is its tangibility and it can be handed down from one casting director to the next. When it comes to online, make a real effort to post your reel at various sites.

Beware of costs. Be sure to shop and compare and not overpay. Creating your own site is a good idea too, especially if you can draw people in. Make sure to keep your site simple and have your reel readily available for viewing. Keep in mind that busy casting directors and agents may not necessarily have time or interest to visit your site.

It’s nothing personal; they’re just busy. Lastly, always have a copy of your reel on hand in DVD form ready to hand out to directors, producers, agents, etc. Join clubs, groups, events, organizations and network, network, network. If you stick at it, something good is bound to happen.